Market structure

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Adam Smith Adam Smith The Muir portrait.jpg
Adam Smith

Market structure, in economics, depicts how firms are differentiated and categorised based on the types of goods they sell (homogeneous/heterogeneous) and how their operations are affected by external factors and elements. Market structure makes it easier to understand the characteristics of diverse markets.


The main body of the market is composed of suppliers and demanders. Both parties are equal and indispensable. The market structure determines the price formation method of the market. Suppliers and Demanders (sellers and buyers) will aim to find a price that both parties can accept creating a equilibrium quantity.

Market definition is an important issue for regulators facing changes in market structure, which needs to be determined. [1] The relationship between buyers and sellers as the main body of the market includes three situations: the relationship between sellers (enterprises and enterprises), the relationship between buyers (enterprises or consumers) and the relationship between buyers and sellers. The relationship between the buyer and seller of the market and the buyer and seller entering the market. These relationships are the market competition and monopoly relationships reflected in economics.


Market structure has been a topic of discussion for many economists like Adam Smith and Karl Marx who have strong conflicting viewpoints on how the market operates in presence of political influence. Adam Smith in his writing on economics stressed the importance of laissez-faire principles outlining the operation of the market in the absence of dominant political mechanisms of control, while Karl Marx discussed the working of the market in the presence of a controlled economy [2] sometimes referred to as a command economy in the literature. Both types of market structure have been in historical evidence throughout the twentieth century and twenty-first century.

Market structure has been apparent throughout history due to its natural influence it has on markets, this can be based on the different contributing factors that market up each type of market structure.


Based on the factors that decide the structure of the market, the main forms of market structure are as follows:

Features of market structures

The imperfectly competitive structure is quite identical to the realistic market conditions where some monopolistic competitors, monopolists, oligopolists, and duopolists exist and dominate the market conditions. The elements of Market Structure include the number and size of sellers, entry and exit barriers, nature of product, price, selling costs. Market structure can alter based on the new external factors, such as technology, consumer preferences and new entrants. Therefore, elements of Market Structure always stay the same but the importance of a single element may change making it more influential on the current structure.

Competition is useful because it reveals actual customer demand and induces the seller (operator) to provide service quality levels and price levels that buyers (customers) want, typically subject to the seller's financial need to cover its costs. In other words, competition can align the seller's interests with the buyer's interests and can cause the seller to reveal his true costs and other private information. In the absence of perfect competition, three basic approaches can be adopted to deal with problems related to the control of market power and an asymmetry between the government and the operator with respect to objectives and information: (a) subjecting the operator to competitive pressures, (b) gathering information on the operator and the market, and (c) applying incentive regulation. [13]

Quick Reference to Basic Market Structures
Market StructureSeller Entry & Exit BarriersNature of productNumber of sellersNumber of buyersPrice
Perfect Competition NoHomogeneousManyManyUniform price as their price takers
Monopolistic competition NoClosely related but differentiatedManyManyPartial control over price
Monopoly YesDifferentiated (No Substitute)OneManyPrice Maker
Duopoly YesHomogeneous or DifferentiatedTwoManyPrice rigidity due to price war
Oligopoly YesHomogeneous or DifferentiatedFewManyPrice rigidity due to price war
Monopsony NoHomogeneous or DifferentiatedManyOnePrice taker (as there is only one buyer)
Oligopsony NoHomogeneous or DifferentiatedManyFewPrice Taker
Karl Marx Karl Marx 001.jpg
Karl Marx

The correct sequence of the market structure from most to least competitive is perfect competition, imperfect competition, oligopoly, and pure monopoly.

The main criteria by which one can distinguish between different market structures are: the number and size of firms and consumers in the market, the type of goods and services being traded, and the degree to which information can flow freely. In today's time, Karl Marx's theory about political influence on market makes sense as firms and industry are affected strongly by the regulation, taxes, tariffs, patents imposed by the government. These affect the barriers to entry and exit for the firms in the market.

Perfect competition:

1. There are many buyers and sellers in the market, and there is no fixed buying and selling relationship between them.

2. The products or services traded in the market are all the same without any difference.

3. There are no barriers to entry and exit from the market.

4. There are no trade secrets.

5. Capital resources and labour are easily transferable.

Monopolistic Competition:

There are a large number of enterprises, there are no restrictions on entering and exiting the market, and they sell different products of the same kind, and enterprises have a certain ability to control prices. [14] Monopolies have complete market control as the barriers to entry are high and the threat of new entrants is low; therefore they can price set to their preference.


The number of enterprises is small, entry and exit from the market are restricted, product attributes are different, and the demand curve is downward sloping and relatively inelastic. Oligopolies are usually found in industries in which initial capital requirements are high and existing companies have strong foothold in market share.


The number of enterprises is only one, access is restricted or completely blocked, and the products produced and sold are unique and cannot be replaced by other products. The company has strong control and influence over the price of the entire market.

Different market structures will also lead to different levels of social welfare. Generally speaking, as the degree of competition increases, the total social welfare measured by producer surplus plus consumer surplus will rise. The total surplus of perfect competition market is the highest. And the total surplus of imperfect competition market is lower. In the monopoly market, if the monopoly firm can adopt first-level price discrimination, the consumer surplus is zero and the monopoly firm obtains all the benefits in the market. [15]

Importance of Market Structure

Market structure is important for a firms use as it motivations, decision making, opportunities. This will incur changes to current market standings affecting: market outcomes, price, availability and variety. [16]

Market structure provides indication on potential opportunities and threats which can influence business to adapt there processes and operations in order to meet market structure requirements in order to stay competitive. For example being able to understand market structure will help to identify any product substitutability a foundation element of market structure analysis to then determine the best course of action.

Measure of market structure

Besides market structure, many factors contribute to conduct and market performance. Market pressures are similarly evolving therefore when decision making based on market performance it is essential to assess all the circumstances affecting competition rather than rely solely on measures of market structure. Using a single measurement of market share can be misleading or inconclusive as only indicators are taken into account. [18]

Different aspects that have been taken into account to measures the innovative advantage within particular market structures are: the size distribution of firms, the existence of certain barriers to entry, and the stage of industry in the product lifecycle. [19] Creating another measure to determine the current market structure that can be used as evidence or to evaluate current market performance thus it can be used to forecast and determine future trends.

Herfindahls index and types of market structure Herfindahls index.jpg
Herfindahls index and types of market structure

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Microeconomics</span> Behavior of individuals and firms

Microeconomics is a branch of mainstream economics that studies the behavior of individuals and firms in making decisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources and the interactions among these individuals and firms. Microeconomics focuses on the study of individual markets, sectors, or industries as opposed to the national economy as whole, which is studied in macroeconomics.

A monopoly, as described by Irving Fisher, is a market with the "absence of competition", creating a situation where a specific person or enterprise is the only supplier of a particular thing. This contrasts with a monopsony which relates to a single entity's control of a market to purchase a good or service, and with oligopoly and duopoly which consists of a few sellers dominating a market. Monopolies are thus characterised by a lack of economic competition to produce the good or service, a lack of viable substitute goods, and the possibility of a high monopoly price well above the seller's marginal cost that leads to a high monopoly profit. The verb monopolise or monopolize refers to the process by which a company gains the ability to raise prices or exclude competitors. In economics, a monopoly is a single seller. In law, a monopoly is a business entity that has significant market power, that is, the power to charge overly high prices, which is associated with a decrease in social surplus. Although monopolies may be big businesses, size is not a characteristic of a monopoly. A small business may still have the power to raise prices in a small industry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Monopolistic competition</span> Imperfect competition of differentiated products that are not perfect substitutes

Monopolistic competition is a type of imperfect competition such that there are many producers competing against each other, but selling products that are differentiated from one another and hence are not perfect substitutes. In monopolistic competition, a company takes the prices charged by its rivals as given and ignores the impact of its own prices on the prices of other companies. If this happens in the presence of a coercive government, monopolistic competition will fall into government-granted monopoly. Unlike perfect competition, the company maintains spare capacity. Models of monopolistic competition are often used to model industries. Textbook examples of industries with market structures similar to monopolistic competition include restaurants, cereals, clothing, shoes, and service industries in large cities. The "founding father" of the theory of monopolistic competition is Edward Hastings Chamberlin, who wrote a pioneering book on the subject, Theory of Monopolistic Competition (1933). Joan Robinson published a book The Economics of Imperfect Competition with a comparable theme of distinguishing perfect from imperfect competition. Further work on monopolistic competition was undertaken by Dixit and Stiglitz who created the Dixit-Stiglitz model which has proved applicable used in the sub fields of international trade theory, macroeconomics and economic geography.

An oligopoly can be referred to as a market in which control over an industry lies in the hands of a few large who own a large share of the market. Oligopolistic markets can be described as having homogenous products, few market participants and inelastic demand for the products in those industries. As a result of the significant market power firms tend to have in oligopolistic markets, these firms are exposed to the privilege of influencing prices through manipulating the supply function. in addition to that, these firms can be described as mutually interdependent. This is because any action by one firm is expected to affect other firms in the market and evoke a reaction or consequential action. To remedy that, firms in oligopolistic markets often resort to collusion as means of maximising profits.

In economics, specifically general equilibrium theory, a perfect market, also known as an atomistic market, is defined by several idealizing conditions, collectively called perfect competition, or atomistic competition. In theoretical models where conditions of perfect competition hold, it has been demonstrated that a market will reach an equilibrium in which the quantity supplied for every product or service, including labor, equals the quantity demanded at the current price. This equilibrium would be a Pareto optimum.

In economics, imperfect competition refers to a situation where the characteristics of an economic market do not fulfil all the necessary conditions of a perfectly competitive market. Imperfect competition causes market inefficiencies, resulting in market failure. Imperfect competition usually describes behaviour of suppliers in a market, such that the level of competition between sellers is below the level of competition in perfectly competitive market conditions.

In economics, industrial organization is a field that builds on the theory of the firm by examining the structure of firms and markets. Industrial organization adds real-world complications to the perfectly competitive model, complications such as transaction costs, limited information, and barriers to entry of new firms that may be associated with imperfect competition. It analyzes determinants of firm and market organization and behavior on a continuum between competition and monopoly, including from government actions.

In theories of competition in economics, a barrier to entry, or an economic barrier to entry, is a fixed cost that must be incurred by a new entrant, regardless of production or sales activities, into a market that incumbents do not have or have not had to incur. Because barriers to entry protect incumbent firms and restrict competition in a market, they can contribute to distortionary prices and are therefore most important when discussing antitrust policy. Barriers to entry often cause or aid the existence of monopolies and oligopolies, or give companies market power. Barriers of entry also have an importance in industries. First of all it is important to identify that some exist naturally, such as brand loyalty. Governments can also create barriers to entry to meet consumer protection laws, protecting the public. In other cases it can also be due to inherent scarcity of public resources needed to enter a market.

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In economics, market power refers to the ability of a firm to influence the price at which it sells a product or service by manipulating either the supply or demand of the product or service to increase economic profit. To make it simple, companies with strong market power can decide whether higher the price above competition levels or lower their quality produced but no need to worry about losing any customers, the strong market power for a company prevents they are involving competition. In other words, market power occurs if a firm does not face a perfectly elastic demand curve and can set its price (P) above marginal cost (MC) without losing revenue. This indicates that the magnitude of market power is associated with the gap between P and MC at a firm's profit maximising level of output. The size of the gap, which encapsulates the firm's level of market dominance, is determined by the residual demand curve's form. A steeper reverse demand indicates higher earnings and more dominance in the market. Such propensities contradict perfectly competitive markets, where market participants have no market power, P = MC and firms earn zero economic profit. Market participants in perfectly competitive markets are consequently referred to as 'price takers', whereas market participants that exhibit market power are referred to as 'price makers' or 'price setters'.

In economics, market concentration is a function of the number of firms and their respective shares of the total production in a market.Market concentration is the portion of a given market's market share that is held by a small number of businesses. To ascertain whether an industry is competitive or not, it is employed in antitrust law and economic regulation. When market concentration is high, it indicates that a few firms dominate the market and oligopoly or monopolistic competition is likely to exist. In most cases, high market concentration produces undesirable consequences such as reduced competition and higher prices.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Market (economics)</span> System in which parties engage in transactions according to supply and demand

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Competition (economics)</span> Economic scenario

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Edward Chamberlin</span> American economist

Edward Hastings Chamberlin was an American economist. He was born in La Conner, Washington, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A bilateral monopoly is a market structure consisting of both a monopoly and a monopsony.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Profit (economics)</span> Concept in economics

In economics, profit is the difference between revenue that an economic entity has received from its outputs and total costs of its inputs. It is equal to total revenue minus total cost, including both explicit and implicit costs.

In economics, a monopsony is a market structure in which a single buyer substantially controls the market as the major purchaser of goods and services offered by many would-be sellers. The microeconomic theory of monopsony assumes a single entity to have market power over all sellers as the only purchaser of a good or service. This is a similar power to that of a monopolist, which can influence the price for its buyers in a monopoly, where multiple buyers have only one seller of a good or service available to purchase from.


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